by John M. Borack and David Bash
Like finding a needle in a haystack, a silver lining in a cloud, or that elusive winning lottery ticket, every now and again a gem of a power pop tune can be found in a most unexpected place. Here are ten that raised a couple of eyebrows and caught our attention. (The first five selections are from David Bash, pop maven extraordinaire and the brains behind the long-running International Pop Overthrow festival, and the second five are courtesy of JB.)
1. “Long Away” – Queen To be sure, one doesn’t usually associate the term “power pop” with the pomp and circumstance that was Freddie Mercury and Queen, but there’s the rub: “Long Away,” from Queen’s excellent 1976 LP, A Day At The Races, was written and sung by guitarist Brian May. Though plenty of the classic May guitar licks are ever present in this number, one might not have expected the very Eric Carmen-esque lead vocal and melodies, not unlike Carmen’s own wonderful tune, “Sunrise.” “Long Away” is a bit folkier than “Sunrise,” but it certainly would not have been out of place in the repertoire of either Carmen or Raspberries.
2. “Tonight” – New Kids on the Block Who woulda thunk this incessantly annoying boy band would have come up with anything good, let alone a great power pop tune? Well, that’s what they achieved with “Tonight”, which manages to sound like both John and Julian Lennon simultaneously. Culled from their Step By Step LP, “Tonight” joins the pantheon of great songs with that title, including those by Nick Lowe, Raspberries, and The Move.
3. “I Don’t Mind At All”- Bourgeois Tagg These boys from California’s capital city were known primarily as a combination synth pop/Hall & Oates styled act, so many people were surprised when they heard this string and vocal-laden ballad on Bourgeois Tagg’s second album, Yo Yo. Perhaps not a power pop tune by the strictest of standards, “I Don’t Mind At All” would certainly not be out of place as one of those “great ballads” found on many a cool power pop LP. (The fact that Todd Rundgren worked his production wizardry on it didn’t hurt, either.) This tune actually found its way into the Billboard Top 40 at the tail end of 1987.
4. “Favorite Waste Of Time” – Bette Midler Do you think The Divine Ms. M. actually knew this somewhat obscure Marshall Crenshaw b-side, or is it more likely that a savvy associate dropped it into her lap? Either way, somebody showed a good deal of great taste in their decision to have Midler cover this tune on her 1983 LP, No Frills; it also reached #78 on the Billboard singles charts. To her (and/or her producer Chuck Plotkin’s) credit, Midler’s rendition is pretty faithful to the original; one can only imagine how horrid it could have been!
5. “There’s A Dove” – Harry Gore and The Measles Here’s a real pip for you: an African-American Christian dude from Virginia is possibly the last person from whom you’d expect a power pop classic, but Mr. Gore’s rockin’ tune is a hidden classic indeed. If someone told you this nugget was by The Posies or Adam Schmitt, you’d probably believe it; well, until you notice some of the rather heavy-handed, proselytizing lyrics such as “For you He chose to die,” that is. The album from whence it came, 1994’s Subtlety Goes Out the Window, doesn’t have much more power pop on it, but although long out of print, it can be found on iTunes.
6. “Need Your Lovin’ Tonight” – Queen Here’s another killer Queen pop tune (see what I did there?), this one penned by bassist John Deacon. Originally included on 1980’s The Game, this is a snappy, straightforward (both musically and lyrically) little ditty that’s sung by Freddie Mercury with little or no preening or posturing. For what it’s worth, “Rock It (Prime Jive)” from the same CD is totally pop and totally aces, as well.
7. “Tell Me How You Feel” – Phil Keaggy and Sunday’s Child Speaking of cool, obscure poppy numbers from Christian rockers (see entry number five), here’s another from Phil Keaggy, from 1988’s Phil Keaggy and Sunday’s Child CD. Simply put, “Tell Me How You Feel” is as close to perfect as a pop song can get, stuffed with chiming guitar riffs, yearning vocals and a big backbeat. Extra pop coolness points to PK for copping the With the Beatles LP cover design for his disc.
8. “Round & Round” – Edgar Winter Group A real blast from the past, as this one emanates from 1972’s They Only Come Out at Night (you remember, the one with a shirtless, bejeweled, lipstick-wearing Edgar Winter gracing the cover – yikes!). Sitting comfortably alongside radio smashes such as “Frankenstein” and “Free Ride” is this gem, which leads off the proceedings. “Round & Round” is a lilting, jangly number which almost leans a little towards country, but the spiffy harmonies, melody and lead vocal ensure that it ends up on the pop side of the street.
9. “If We Never Meet Again” – Tommy Conwell and the Young Rumblers On most of 1988’s Rumble LP Tommy Conwell seems more like a young bumbler than a young rumbler, but on this oft-covered Jules Shear-written ditty he acquits himself quite nicely. It’s Jangle City to the max, with Conwell sounding as committed to the material as possible. Most definitely a career highlight for Tommy and the boys.
10. “Suzie Lightning” – Warren Zevon One adjective that is not often associated with the late Warren Zevon’s music is “sweet,” but damned if this cut, from 1991’s fine Mr. Bad Example record, doesn’t fit the bill. “Suzie Lightning” is a beautiful tale of love lost, where Zevon sings of a girl who’s “in Yugoslavia working on a miniseries” (perhaps it’s about his former flame, Knots Landing actress Kim Lankford), lamenting “she don’t have time for love/she don’t need me now.” Waddy Wachtel lays down some slick guitar parts, while the late drummer Jeff Porcaro anchors the tune and Zevon’s son Jordan adds harmonies. Sweet.